The Medium Car Crash

The Medium.com logo, in 1997, before Evan Williams. Via archive.org

Evan Williams and his work are profiled in the New York Times by David Streitfeld. He’s behind Twitter and Blogger. There is one good point that succinctly explains a big problem with the web today:

The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.

His goal is to break this pattern. “If I learn that every time I drive down this road I’m going to see more and more car crashes,” he says, “I’m going to take a different road.”

[…]

For five years, Mr. Williams has been refining a communications platform called Medium. Its ambition: define a new model for media in a world struggling under the weight of fake or worthless content. Medium is supposed to be social and collaborative without rewarding the smash-ups. It is supposed to be a force for good.

Medium feels to me like it isn’t as popular as Twitter, but it is a thing that I suspect most people reading this would have read a few articles on.

The article talks about the business model of Medium, how it exists as a platform for writing. I think it misses the real problem with the site, the reason why Medium exists is to profit off of the work of writers. Not that Evan Williams is a bad person — he tried to create a space for good writing in Medium — the real problem with Medium is that it is yet another business that exists as a parasite on a writer’s work without providing them with a living wage or an identity.

The Times article goes on to talk with one writer who made some money on the site. She received $50 per article, when they were paid, and went on to write about 100 in the same year. Not all of those were paid, and $50 isn’t bad at all for a new writer, but even if she had been paid for every article $5000 a year isn’t going to pay the rent.

Whether the business model is correct or not, I read many articles on Medium, I link to very few, and I can’t remember who the authors are of most of the articles I read on the site. Their identity is subsumed into Medium and they no-longer own their writing when it is read on Medium.

A site like Medium can’t help but raise their brand above the authors. Take a look at this article on Medium that I recently linked to.

The only opportunities for an author to express themselves on the page are their byline, and any auto-biographical text that they write in their bio underneath the byline.

In that article by Jose Moran, it is an article exclusively about that author’s work experience at Tesla. We might remember Jose a bit more than anyone else because he works for Tesla, which is an important company in the electric car field even if I don’t like the way they treat their employees.

Here’s how his byline block appears:

Here’s the banner at the bottom of the page when you’re not logged into Medium:

Now let’s pick a recommended article from just above the bottom of the page. The first one is another article about Tesla and it takes us to ThinkProgress, a site that uses Medium as a host for their writing.

Here’s how the author’s byline block is on a page hosted by Medium:

The bio gets cut-off at the top of the page, but there’s a larger version at the bottom with the full text.

Here’s the banner on that hosted site:

What are you signing up for? Medium. Not ThinkProgress, not Jose Moran. You might incidentally get updates from ThinkProgress or Jose after signing up, but Medium-the-business doesn’t give a crap if you do, so long as you keep using Medium.

In both cases the author loses control over their byline as well. Did Joe Romm want to display just part of his byline at the top of the page? We’ll never know, because Medium decided for him.

Does Jose Moran want you to sign up for more updates from him in case he posts an update where Elon grows some balls and lets his employee’s Unionize? Medium decided that no, what you want to do is sign up for Medium.

The only person that has an author’s best interests in mind is that author.

When an author has their own site, they are totally free to express themselves with more than just a byline. Nuclear Monster is to my taste as a modification of the free software WordPress. At the top of the page, that’s a logo I made with the feedback of friends. I picked out the colors of the site, and what code I wanted to use. I decided what the site’s focus should be. Medium pages are identical, generic and bland, because they express the identity of that site instead of the identity of that author.

Those bylines above are actually an improvement over the original Medium. Back in 2013 the author’s byline looked like this:

It is possible that the 2013 byline looked a little better, I have cribbed it from the archive.org version which sometimes isn’t able to preserve the entire detail of an archived page. However, it matches my memory of the site. No author photo or bio.

When you follow an author who has their own site by subscribing to their RSS feed, or on Facebook, or Twitter, you’re going to get to their site as the destination to read their work.

That author gets to decide if they’re going to link off-site at the bottom of their article page. I don’t personally like those kinds of advertisements, so I just have a rotating group of related articles from Nuclear Monster, but at least I have a choice and could decide if I wanted them. Jose Moran has no option after choosing to use Medium to host his writing. There are links to whatever articles the Medium algorithm picked.

As a writer, I hope that Medium fails, because it can’t exist as a functioning business without exploiting authors who need to establish their own identity in order to survive. I want to see more writers own their own websites or choose to work collectively with others instead of seeing their work stripped of identity and authorial ownership to another business intent on exploiting them.

The problem with San Francisco area startups is that they are all car crashes intent on smashing into as many people as possible before the money dries up and they leave without insurance to clean up the mess they left behind.

When Medium fails and is sold to Verizon, it will leave writers bloodied and bruised in its wake who haven’t established their own identity and they may be so frustrated with the experience that they give up on writing entirely.

Dead Cells is a Great Metroidvania

Rogue Legacy was a new style of metroidvania. It reset the castle when your character died, just like Rogue and Nethack, and randomly generated a new castle when you came back to life. Dead Cells has those generated dungeons and also changes out the progression system and combat to be somewhat Souls-like. I love the variety of weapons and effects that speak a little bit more to Symphony of the Night while the art reminds me of the  Neo Geo classic, Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

It is in Steam’s Early Access program, but it felt very far along to me, much further than most other Early Access games.

Dead Cells is $17 in Early Access on Steam for Windows.

“Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.”

Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg for the Times:

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The Motochimp Looks Amazing

The Fully Charged show is from TV’s Kryten, Robert Llewellyn, and covers electric vehicles. This episode features his cohost giving this cyberpunk Motochimp electric scooter a trial.

All-electric motorcycles are awesome because they simplify the riding experience by removing the clutch just like this Motochimp does, though I’ve never seen any that look like this.

Llewellyn also invented the car interview formula popularized by Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with criminally under-viewed Carpool show on YouTube.

Here’s an episode of Carpool with Stephen Fry:

Elon Musk is Grinding Tesla’s Workers Into Dust

Julia Carrie Wong for The Guardian:

When Tesla bought a decommissioned car factory in Fremont, California, Elon Musk transformed the old-fashioned, unionized plant into a much-vaunted “factory of the future”, where giant robots named after X-Men shape and fold sheets of metal inside a gleaming white mecca of advanced manufacturing.

The appetite for Musk’s electric cars, and his promise to disrupt the carbon-reliant automobile industry, has helped Tesla’s value exceed that of both Ford and, briefly, General Motors (GM). But some of the human workers who share the factory with their robotic counterparts complain of grueling pressure – which they attribute to Musk’s aggressive production goals – and sometimes life-changing injuries.

Ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by the Guardian. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues.

If only there were a way for the employees to collectively bargain for their working lives to be improved.

Jose Moran back in February:

I’m proud to be part of a team that is bringing green cars to the masses. As a production worker at Tesla’s plant in Fremont for the past four years, I believe Tesla is one of the most innovative companies in the world. We are working hard to build the world’s #1 car?—?not just electric, but overall. Unfortunately, however, I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.

Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies.

Preventable injuries happen often. In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies. There is too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed. Add a shortage of manpower and a constant push to work faster to meet production goals, and injuries are bound to happen.

A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear that ergonomics concerns in other departments are even more severe. Worst of all, I hear coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.

[…]

Many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support. The company has begun to respond. In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay?—?the first we’ve seen in a very long time.

But at the same time, management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out. Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions.

Elon Musk’s response, as obtained by Tech Crunch, is ridiculous:

That is why I was so distraught when I read the recent blog post promoting the UAW, which does not share our mission and whose true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.

The tactics they have resorted to are disingenuous or outright false. I will address their underhanded attacks below.

Elon, and other startup assholes, love to pretend that they are the underdogs versus giant big businesses. I don’t doubt that Ford, GM, and Chrysler would love to take Tesla’s business out by attacking it from the low and middle portions of their market for electric vehicles, but the unions are there to represent the employees and not automakers. The whole framing of his argument is flawed from that point on to Elon’s choice of adjectives like “underhanded” and “disingenuous” in describing his employee’s argument for better representation.

Decrypting Sneakers

The surest way to gain a link is to talk about the best movie of all time, Sneakers, as Priscilla Page has by taking apart the film for Birth.Movies.Death:

Phil Alden Robinson’s Sneakers might just be the most undervalued movie of all time. It’s a political thriller, a caper, “tech-noir,” a little like Three Days of the Condor reimagined as a buddy film. Sneakers is awash in shades of blue, as if its story takes place in the shadows, or in the glow of an old computer screen. James Horner’s score features strings, a choir, and Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone — it’s a wintry, whimsical, haunting thing. Sneakers is the creation of Phil Alden Robinson, Lawrence Lasker, and Walter F. Parkes, who sought to make a movie they would want to see. It took 10 years to write, ultimately becoming an excuse for these guys to hang out.

Back when DVDs were still a thing you would own and want to collect, I’d give out copies of this movie to my friends who I am sure never watched it. Sneakers is fantastic, but when you roughly try to explain to someone that it’s a movie about hacking they think Hackers and immediately tune out because that is going to be a goofy, unrealistic, bad time. Sneakers is unrealistic, but the relationships in it are incredibly relatable.

As Priscilla points out, this is also a movie that is not really high-tech. All of the 90’s and early 2000’s movies about hacking realized that people sitting at a computer typing is boring as shit to watch. So many of the crew’s solutions in Sneakers are about personal interactions and introduced concepts like social engineering that I didn’t know about when I saw the film.

Go watch the movie, then read the rest of Priscilla’s article.

It Gets Worse

This morning, the Times’ Michael S. Schmidt reported that Comey left a fantastic paper trail before he was fired:

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

There’s also this incredible buried lede:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

An Idiot’s Guide to Mishandling Classified Information

Absolutely insane series of events.

Yesterday the Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe reported that Trump gave classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in front of the Russian press during their jovial meeting at the White House:

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

This isn’t the first time the embarrassment has mishandled classified information, but the follow-up was so flawed.

The LA Times’ Michael A. Memoli and Noah Bierman quoting the national security advisor:

McMaster said Trump “wasn’t even aware” of the source of the information and again called “the premise” of a Washington Post report that Trump had improperly shared highly classified intelligence “false.”

This morning, the embarrassment confirmed the original article:

That isn’t how that works. The president casually gave classified information to a foreign adversary in front of their state media.

Alex Tizon’s Story of Slavery in America and the Philippines

Heartbreaking story from Alex Tizon:

To our American neighbors, we were model immigrants, a poster family. They told us so. My father had a law degree, my mother was on her way to becoming a doctor, and my siblings and I got good grades and always said “please” and “thank you.” We never talked about Lola. Our secret went to the core of who we were and, at least for us kids, who we wanted to be.

Everybody has family secrets when they’re growing up, but I don’t think I know anyone with anything like this in their past. Then there’s the awful editor’s note:

And we were heartbroken to learn on Friday, March 24, that Alex Tizon had died. His story editor here at the magazine, Denise Kersten Wills, found out late that evening that Alex had been found dead in his home in Eugene, Oregon. He had died in his sleep, of natural causes. He was 57 years old.

National Embarrassment Threatens Former FBI Director With Blackmail

After lying about his predecessor recording his calls, Trump has threatened to release secret recordings of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey:

If the White House records something it can be subpoenaed as Nixon’s recordings were during Watergate.